Eshoo, Whitehouse Want FCC Update on CALM Act

The co-authors of the CALM Act want the FCC to give them an update on the progress of the law's implementation, which requires video providers to insure advertisement volume is consistent with the surrounding program.

The law went into effect approximately six months ago and they want to know, for one thing, how many complaints the FCC has received about loud commercials since then, as well as how many entities have been granted waivers of temporary relief from that implementation.

In a letter to acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) did not indicate any impatience with that implementation, and a spokesperson for Eshoo confirmed it was simply a six-month check-up rather than a response to any complaint. "We have not heard any bad reports," he said.

The FCC adopted rules implementing the act in December 2011, but the industry did not have to come into compliance for a year.

The FCC made cable operators responsible for the volume of both national and local ads, as well as promos, while TV stations are responsible for the national network and syndicated ads, as well as promos and local ads, both on broadcast and on the signals they deliver to cable operators. That means if a cable operator delivers a TV station ad that violates the act, it is the broadcaster who is responsible.

But the final order includes some flexibility for operators and stations to comply with their responsibility over the "imbedded" ads they pass along from program distributors up the chain. They will be considered in compliance if they "install, utilize and maintain" the requisite equipment and software, or they have a certification from the distributor of the ad that it complies with the recommended ATSC standard that the FCC is making mandatory.

Larger operators must conduct annual spot-checking of commercials for the first two years, after which that requirement sunsets. Smaller operators and stations don't have to spot check, but stations and operators of all sizes must test in response to a "pattern or trend" of complaints -- rather than, say, a single complaint -- involving their station or system.

Smaller operators have the opportunity to seek hardship waivers and are not be required to purchase equipment, though they are responsible for any proven violations.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.